On the trail: Trump headed to blue Durham next weekend

Democratic presidential candidate Dean Phillips speaks at a campaign event in Portsmouth last week.

Democratic presidential candidate Dean Phillips speaks at a campaign event in Portsmouth last week. Paul Steinhauser photograph

Former President Donald Trump speaks at a campaign rally Saturday, Nov. 11, 2023, in Claremont, N.H. (AP Photo/Reba Saldanha)

Former President Donald Trump speaks at a campaign rally Saturday, Nov. 11, 2023, in Claremont, N.H. (AP Photo/Reba Saldanha) AP — Reba Saldanha

By PAUL STEINHAUSER

For the Valley News

Published: 12-12-2023 4:22 AM

Former President Donald Trump returns to New Hampshire this weekend, for his first campaign stop in the first-in-the-nation presidential primary state in over a month.

The former president will headline a rally at the Whittemore Center, which is the University of New Hampshire’s arena at its campus in Durham, N.H.

The stop by Trump, who remains the commanding front-runner in the race for the GOP presidential nomination as he makes his third straight White House run, comes with the Jan. 23 primary fast approaching. Trump’s last visit to the state was Nov. 11, when he held a rally in Claremont.

Durham has long been a Democratic stronghold when it comes to New Hampshire politics. So, is the Trump campaign aiming to make a statement by bringing the former president to one of the bluest spots in the crucial northeastern battleground state?

The Trump campaign says logistics rather than politics was behind the choice of venue location.

“We’re trying to get the president to different parts of the state. We were over in Claremont a couple of weeks ago over on the western part of the state. We were over in Wolfeboro in the Lakes Region and we haven’t been over to the Seacoast,” said Steve Stepanek, the Trump campaign’s senior adviser in New Hampshire.

Stepanek, a former state representative who chaired Trump’s 2016 campaign in the Granite State and later served as New Hampshire GOP chair, emphasized that “we wanted to go to the Seacoast and we wanted a big venue….The Whittemore Center was the biggest venue we could find.”

Students will still be on campus during the visit as finals end on Dec. 19.

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Trump isn’t the only Republican presidential candidate in the state in the days ahead.

Multi-millionaire biotech entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy returned to the Granite State on Sunday for two days of campaigning on the Seacoast, and in Manchester and Nashua. Former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley, who served as ambassador to the United Nations in the Trump administration, is back in New Hampshire mid-week, including a Wednesday event in Newport.

Phillips says if he can ‘surprise’ in NH, it will be ‘game on’

Democratic presidential candidate U.S. Rep. Dean Phillips of Minnesota last weekend concluded a week-and-a-half-long campaign swing through New Hampshire.

Phillips says he plans to “under promise” and “over-deliver” as he runs a long-shot primary challenge against President Joe Biden for the Democratic nomination.

The three-term lawmaker, one of the wealthiest members of Congress, launched his campaign for the White House in late October. He’s focusing most of his time and resources on New Hampshire, where the president’s name won’t be on the ballot in the state’s Democratic primary on Jan. 23.

“Do I have to win? No. Absolutely not. Do I think I’m going to? No, I don’t. I bet you’ve never heard that from a politician before,” Phillips answered when asked last week where he needed to finish in the New Hampshire primary to continue his presidential quest.

“I’m a long shot, a dark horse, and that‘s fun,” Phillips acknowledged. “That’s fine. Because I feel what’s happening in the country and what’s happening right here.”

“I think we will surprise and from there, it’s game on,” he added.

Phillips, citing the 81-year-old president’s age, has repeatedly criticized Biden for “not passing the torch” to the next generation of Democratic leaders and urged that a serious primary contender challenge the president for the party’s 2024 nomination. Biden continues to suffer from underwater approval ratings among many Americans and faces concerns — not just from Republicans and independents but also from Democrats — over his physical and mental stamina.

When no other major Democrats considered running against Biden, the multimillionaire businessman and co-founder of a gelato company turned three-term House Democrat from Minnesota launched his own campaign.

While the president is the commanding frontrunner for his party’s 2024 nomination, polls indicate that many Americans — including plenty of Democrats — don’t want the president to seek a second term in the White House. Those same surveys spotlight that voters are not thrilled with the likely prospect of a rematch between Biden and Trump.

“The country’s being very clear right now. They do not want Joe Biden to be the president. And they don’t want Donald Trump to be the president,” Phillips emphasized as he addressed a crowd huddled to see him during a stop last week in Portsmouth, N.H. “Whichever party breaks that logjam will win the White House, the Senate and the House.”

Phillips said his mission is “to demonstrate that Americans are sick and tired of the nonsense. That we have a crisis that cannot be addressed by either Donald Trump or frankly, President Biden, and it’s time for change.”

The president nearly a year ago proposed a nominating calendar for the 2024 election cycle that booted New Hampshire from its traditional lead-off primary position and replaced it with South Carolina, a much more diverse state where Black voters play a major role in Democratic politics.

Biden came in a dismal fifth in the 2020 New Hampshire primary, but a few weeks later won South Carolina in a landslide. The victory boosted the former vice president toward the Democratic nomination and eventually the White House.

The Democratic National Committee earlier this year overwhelmingly approved the calendar change proposed by the president. But New Hampshire leapfrogged South Carolina to honor a longtime state law that mandates the state holds the first primary. With the state holding an unsanctioned Democratic contest, the president’s re-election campaign earlier this autumn announced that Biden wouldn’t file to place his name on the New Hampshire ballot.

Top Democrats in New Hampshire launched a write-in campaign for Biden in order to prevent any electoral embarrassment in the state’s presidential primary. And to help that effort, former New Hampshire Democratic Party chair and former DNC member Kathy Sullivan recently helped to launch a super PAC, which aims to encourage Granite State voters to write in Biden’s name on the primary ballot.